Top five books of 2015
Have I mentioned I’m in a bit of a slump this year? I read more than ever, and came home from Book Expo America with a bunch of hot new books, but only five books were good enough to get that elusive five-star rating. For fun, I’ve included the most ridiculous thing I did while reading each.
- The Bear by Claire Cameron (tried to describe it to my husband while out for our sixth anniversary dinner, ended up crying)
- The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (read the first forty or so pages aloud)
- After Birth by Elisa Albert (… nothing much, but here’s a fun fact: Albert used to write the captions for A Baby Story, that ubiquitous 2000s-era Canadian reality show about birth. I hated that show because I had pretty traumatic deliveries, just like the main character in this book, and felt like it sugar-coated the truth. I guess Albert felt that way too?)
- Outline by Rachel Cusk (spent a Saturday night reading it with a mug of mint tea and whisky. Not that crazy, except I never drink whisky and I never drink alone.)
- The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (Told my family I was going to the grocery store, and read in the parking lot for an hour)
Yeah, but did I review them? Last year I was ashamed of the fact that I only reviewed one of my top ten books. I was also ashamed of the reason – I was afraid to write about race. I ended up reviewing The Bridge of Beyond in January and it is one of my favourite reviews. This year, I gave my all to The Bear – I didn’t do a traditional review, but I wrote about it here on the blog, and on 49th Shelf. I wrote a quick blurb on The Wake (but please note there is a 2,000+ word draft review in the works,) and nothing on the other three.
There isn’t anything in particular about After Birth, Outline, or The Days of Abandonment that made me skip the review. I’m not intimidated by the subject matter. I still think about them. I suppose that, compared to The Bear and The Wake, they are very specifically women’s stories (not for women… I mean about women, centred on women’s experiences, etc.) But I’m usually cool with that too.
Here’s my hypothesis: I read too damn much this year. I powered through all three of these books, because I had holds coming in at the library, and Book Expo books to get to before publication date (fail,) and a Forsyte Saga to get through before the end of the year (epic fail,) and an ever-growing pile of library sale books, and book swap books, and contest win books, and Canada Reads and Alberta Reader’s Choice and Giller Prize books. I had just enough time to register that hey, this book is amazing, before barreling on to the next.
Can you guess what’s coming next? Stay tuned for my 2016 plans post. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna KonMari my bookshelf or anything. KonMari is so 2015.
Honourable mentions where four stars on Goodreads means 4.5 or 4.9: Martin John by Anakana Schofield, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Not “bad” books, so put your pitchforks away. These books did not live up to the hype.
- Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (my review) I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t get it.
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: The Franzen blurb got my hopes up, but by the end, I was so exasperated with everyone and everything. Great audio book narrator, though.
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: This book is a total Monet: great fun while reading, but a big mess if you stop and think about it for too long. Not to mention the most boring protagonists ever.
- City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallsberg: I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but when I wasn’t, I didn’t think of it for a moment. Hence I almost gave up twice. Sweet trailer, though.
And, finally, the 2015 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth!
This is a surprise, even to me. From the time I read it in February, up until one minute ago, I was convinced that The Bear would be my book of the year. So, I guess I’d better tell you why it’s not.
But first, I’ll tell you why The Wake is. Briefly. Remember that 2,000 word draft I’ve got going? You’ll hear enough about it, in time. I chose it for my book of the year because:
It surprised me. I had no notion of picking it up at Book Expo America, until I happened to see this tweet, so I had no idea what I was in for.
It shook me. Us bloggers and book reviewers often say things like “heart-pounding” or “hair-raising” or “breath-taking,” but I tell you, as I read the last page of this book, every hair was on end, my heart was racing, and I was gasping.
It’s a technical wonder. Kingsnorth invented a language for this book. Enough said? Not quite. His “shadow tongue” is based on Old English, and so, he didn’t use any words that are not rooted in Old English. You know how so many English words are very similar to words in French or Spanish? Yeah, none of those words are in this book. Which isn’t just a fancy trick, given this is a story about Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Norman (or French) invasion.
It’s relevant. Historical fiction is such great fun because it’s so immersive. We imagine ourselves in another world. The Wake is like that, but it’s also hugely informative for someone living in a country colonized by the English and the French, to read about how the English were colonized by the French 1,000 years ago.
Buccmaster. Flawed, unreliable, tragic, brutal, a lost cause and a last hope. I didn’t read a more memorable character this year.
Check out Rosemary and Reading Glasses for a great review of The Wake if you can’t wait for mine.
As for The Bear, it is wonderful, powerful, and true. On reflection, though, there were some things that bothered me about the pacing towards the end, and some bits that felt emotionally manipulative. The Bear did change me, though, and it’s still my go-to CanLit recommendation. Oh, and Cameron just sold the rights to a new novel called The Last Neanderthal, about “the perils of motherhood at the end of the Neanderthal era” that’s billed as an updated The Clan of the Cave Bear and I cannot wait.